Whilst the small group of men is gathering I am becoming curious. Who are the Syrians and who are the Afghans? What are their stories? What and who will emerge from these still unknown faces? Who will touch me the most?
This was at the beginning of a 3 days of trauma relief, integration and self-care training. In this training we peel off one layer the after other, revealing vulnerability, joy, despair and hope. The training is designed for that and each time I marvel how the formula works its magic.
In another blog I describe what happens during the training. Here I highlight my insights, beginning with the question:
What are the shared experiences?
The shared grief: our future is lost.
The core fear: what is our future? And of our children? Will we have to start all over again in a different country after 5 years?
The main concern during the training: we have to be strong. We cannot be weak. Voicing doubt and despair is weakness.
A question was posed: after all of you had shared your doubt and despair, who experienced the others as weak?
No-one. It was actually perceived as courageous.
That was sinking in.
We also shared the fact that the global suicide rate of men was 26% higher than women. That hit a mark.
More men than women are not able to show vulnerability because it is perceived as weakness. In reality vulnerability is courage. It is pure courage if you dare to let yourself being seen as not perfect, invincible and strong. More importantly though: vulnerability allows connection. Research (Brene Brown and others) has shown that connection is the antidote of isolation. Suicide is isolation to the extreme.
At the end of the training I knew whom I had in front of me: the future builders and leaders of Syria and Afghanistan. These well educated men work incredibly hard to provide for their families and live up to their own and family’s expectations. They will be the future foundation of their countries if they are able to stay in touch with their own vulnerability and create connection with themselves and others. There is so much power in this. Vulnerability and connection is the power to overcome any kind of trauma that we experience. From this we build and create. Not from pent up despair, doubt, anger and fear. If they can maintain the insight that staying strong and in control at all costs and not showing their own doubts and despair will cost them everything in the end. 26% more men commit suicide compared to women. That’s a global figure. And the suicide rate is considerably higher among refugees that don’t have permanent residency and uncertainty about their future.
Their own society does not tolerate its men to be “weak”. Vulnerability is met with contempt and anger. They can be the change that their society needs. When the apparent weakness of showing doubt and despair is met with non-judgment and empathy. If they can maintain vulnerability, they will be stronger than before. In this case, their future is not lost. These men are the future.
Creating healthy boundaries
Do you push your “working time” further out? Do you answer emails, work on documents that need finishing, make plans, etc. after dinner time?
What effect does it have on you?
Well, I know what effect it has on me. I get more restless instead of being satisfied with the things that I get done. Even worse: If I don’t sleep enough, work too much or spend endless hours online, I start losing connection to my loved ones and myself.
How are you? Are you restless, perhaps irritated and off balance and find no peace in yourself? When you find yourself alone, you find it hard to enjoy the moments of solitude? And if you are with people, you feel like the void is being filled, but leaves you yearning for more?
The key to peace lies in setting strong boundaries.
“Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures.” – Edwin Louis Cole
The challenge is that the radio station NST (non-stop-thinking) is on and that many voices are constantly chattering in your head. They talk endlessly about you doing this or that. That you are supposed to do more of this and less of that. Often they contradict themselves, even within the same sentence. And we don’t even notice because we are so busy. The voices talk about other people not doing the right things. Or that world is in a bad state and that nothing you do can change it.
The opening to the key is to tune out of the voices and tune into what you feel. What is your body telling you? Are your shoulders tense? Have you got a funny feeling in your stomach ? Are your thoughts racing?
The turning of key is to be with yourself and your emotions. What opens the door is the practice of self care, even in difficult times. The beauty of that is it always has a mirror effect. If you take care of yourself, you can care for others: your children, your friends, your family.
So how do we learn that precious self care? It starts with compassion for yourself. Kirstin Neff, self compassion researcher, gives a great example of self compassion: whenever you have a hard day, talk to yourself like you would to a good friend who is having a hard time. Say to yourself “poor darling, I know this is so difficult for you” and soothe yourself. Instead, how often does it happen that you beat yourself up when you make a mistake? You would probably never talk that unkind to other people as you do to yourself.
So here the 6 steps to more self-compassion (and ultimately confidence):
1. Find out who talks unkind in you.
2. Learn to differentiate “inner critiques”
3. Pay attention in what situation the “inner critiques” are speaking up and listen to the 2% truth
4. Acknowledge their 2% truth and then give them permission to leave.
5. Discover your inner leader/ higher self
6. Consciously tune into the voice of your inner leader / higher self”.
The results are healthy boundaries that protect you and your loved ones.
If you would like to find out more about how to tune into self compassion and confidence, I would love to be in touch.
Videoblog: The uncomfortable truth about anger
March 29, 2016
The promise of VR & AR in professional coaching
March 18, 2016
The man opens his eyes, moved to tears. He is speechless. I give him the time and space. After a few moments of silence, I ask him: “What did you see?” The man says a few names of people he knows and then is overcome with emotions again. He is in a precious space of safety in which vulnerability can unfold and blossom. After that he starts describing what impact he had on this people and how grateful they were. How the gratitude touched him and that he wanted to do more for people, much more.
This is a snippet of a coaching session in which we explore for life purpose. This man is a coaching client.
Here another example of the same life purpose exploration:
The man opens his eyes and looks at me confused. I ask after a few moments;”What did you see?” He starts describing the place he grew up at. Then he stops. I ask him:”What impact did you have?” He says: “I don’t know.”
This man is also a coaching client.
Lets take a look at both of these men from a factual and objective viewpoint. Both clients are men, approximately the same age group, same demography (caucasian middle class, both Europeans), similar education, similar family situation (wife, no kids). Both of them I talked through the same visualisation for life purpose exploration. So what is the difference?
One was able to visualise and feel the place completely. The other had a a hard time getting into it and didn’t experience much.
There might be a myriad of explanations: one had bad day, the other didn’t. One is frightful the other one isn’t. One feels safe to open up, the other one doesn’t. One is caught up in his own stories, and the other one isn’t. And so on.
I believe that many of these possible barriers can be overcome with immersing coaching clients into a virtual/augmented reality. Because our response to stimuli in virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are just the same as in real life. People who are uncomfortable in real life with spiders, will be so on VR & AR. People who respond positively to smiling faces and gratitude in real life will do so in VR & AR.
To summarise, lack of imagination (for whatever reason) was standing in the way of one client and opening up new possibilities for another. Would the man not responding to my auditive stimuli (speaking him through the visualisation) respond to the same life purpose exploration embedded in VR & AR?
Looking at the results that have been achieved in therapy, a good guess would be that the chances are 30 to 40% higher with the support of VR & AR. That means instead of having 2 out of 4 clients that respond to this visualisation we will have 3 or even 4 out 4 people benefiting from the amazing experience of finding their life purpose. In brief, going from 60% to 90% success. All people are reaching the top of pyramid of humans needs (Maslow pyramid). How great would that be for the coaches/therapists and the people they work with?
VR psychology of markets
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of FaceBook and owner of Oculus, has recently said in an interview that he thinks VR will become mainstream perhaps 10 to 15 years from now.
Others have written that the high price tags for Oculus Rift and HTC Five (immersive virtual reality head sets for $600 and $800 respectively) have sunken the promise that virtual reality will become mainstream soon.
A recent survey found that only one third of consumers know that virtual reality headsets exists. I was among them until half a year ago.
However, participants of the same survey (3000 in total) said they believe that in 5 years half of the population will own headsets.
The various Google cardboards and Samsung Gear VR are headsets for mobile phone have lower price tags, between $20 and $100. Definitely in the more affordable price range.
Goldman Sachs published in an analyst note in January that they predict that VR will be bigger than TV in 10 years from now.
Deutsche Bank says in an analyst note that they think the VR adoption life cycle will equal to smartphones, which is 9 years to reach mainstream (=majority).
And we know by now the psychology of markets. Beliefs make everything happen. Will VR be mainstream 9 or 15 years from now?
Shauna Heller and other VR experts have said that we haven’t even seen the horizon of VR beyond gaming yet. Braxton Haugen said what will make VR mainstream are applications other than gaming.
The applications for VR mani-fold and still to be discovered. The medical domain has started to train their students with virtual reality, enabling them to conduct surgery, diagnosis, etc. many times before they see a real patient.
I believe that VR coaching and therapy will play an important role in this. The added benefits from research in therapy situations are too good to be ignored.
Which psychology of markets will win remains to be seen. I bet on VR applications other than gaming will be a critical contribution to make VR mainstream. I am ready to make the contribution by developing extraordinary VR coaching and therapy applications that the world has not seen before.
Nadja Muller-den Blijker
Virtual Reality changes your mind
Research shows that virtual reality enhances the ability to change people’s mind.
Mary Aiken and Mike Berry from the Cyberpsychology Research Centre in Ireland experimented on adding smells to the Virtual Reality and increased the recovery rate from traumatic events. Mary Aiken is a known figure in cyber crime, advising Scotland Yard and the series makers of CSI, and speaks publicly about the harm that children experience when being unsupervised in the cyberspace.
The USC conducted exposure therapy with the support of Virtual Reality on soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan deployment at the USC. VR supported treatments achieve better results compared to regular treatment protocols. The treatment times are shortened and patients were getting better beyond was initially thought possible. Also patients that were treatment resistant with regular treatments were getting results.
A study from the university of Stanford measured the body image of women and how comfortable women felt with their body in simulated situations. Not surprisingly their discomfort was the highest at the beach.
The next step could be to turn it completely around and switch the women’s discomfort into comfort and ease at the beach. There are coaching techniques with which a core limiting belief is exchanged with a core empowering belief. The very same women who feel uncomfortable about their body at the beach will not only feel less anxiety – they will actually enjoy themselves on the beach.
This coaching technique is already powerful as is. What would be possible if virtual reality was added?
Virtual reality in professional coaching
January , 2016
The most common reason that people choose to work with a professional coach is to achieve fulfilling goals. That’s the tip of the iceberg.
Why is coaching so effective?
What is lying beneath the water line is that professional coaches create a safe space in which we can fully express ourselves to achieve self-actualization. In this empowered relationship we feel safe so we can be courageous. When we feel safe, we can create, we can invent, we can try new things, we can take incredible risks. We can do almost anything. We can reach our full potential.
What excites me beyond words is the support of immersive virtual reality to coach the blossoming of the full potential.
In professional coaching we use frequently visualization techniques to help opening the mind to the potential. It is a powerful tool that helps you leap forward. From the visualization you start manifesting a new reality in which you live according to your dreams and values. You begin living a fulfilled life with meaning and purpose.
That is when the world sees positive thinking and self-actualization in action.
Creativity and imagination are linked to the right-brain hemisphere. However, our education system and society emphasizes the left-brain hemisphere, which provides focus and hosts inherent logic concepts. In the left-brain hemisphere the imaginative state is limited. Even stronger, the dominant left-brain hemisphere suppresses unconstrained imagination of the right-brain hemisphere. Check out Iain McGilchrist for more about this fascinating topic.
In professional coaching many people use the first time unconstrained and creative imagination to achieve their goals. At first the right-brain hemisphere has to get used to being more active and visualizations take longer to become effective.
It’s like a muscle that we haven’t used for a long time.
Initially the images are less vivid and the emotional response not as strong as it can be.
Imagine coaching visualizations assisted with immersive virtual reality, in which our responses are immediate and primal.
We spot a spider scuttling towards us and we cringe. Floating in outer space we see our planet and are in awe. We sit at impossible heights of a 1000 m cliff and our stomach clamps tight. The experienced reality is intensified and our learning is immediate and palpable.
Imagine the goals that you could achieve with this jump-start of imagination. Imagine how much shorter it will take you to make the goals reality, because you have already experienced them.
The excitement of Virtual Reality
January 7, 2016
Goldman Sachs predicts that Virtual Reality will be bigger than TV in 10 years from now in an analyst note from 13 January 2016. They say the combined revenue from hardware and software will be around $180 billion.
Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus, who are the developers of the high powered headsets, and said: “One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.”
Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe says their aim is to get a billion of people to VR.
The next big thing for investors.
What excites me about Virtual Reality are the sheer unlimited possibilities for people’s personal growth.
In personal coaching we pursue the self-actualization of the Maslow pyramid. We wants people to live with meaning and purpose, with values and morals, full of creativity and resourcefulness. We work on overcoming the limitations of thoughts and patterns that we subconsciously repeat like a broken record.
What I and Dana-Maria Faneker foresee with VR in coaching is that we can spark the imagination and breakthrough mental limitations like we have never seen before.
Mark Zuckerberg said about VR:
When you put it [the VR head set] on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away. The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you’re actually present in another place with other people. People who try it say it’s different from anything they’ve ever experienced in their lives.
Exposure therapy and treatments for PTSS and phobias have already adopted VR, with great success, and breakthroughs in additional areas of psychology are promising. The time of treatment is shortened and people go beyond what was initially thought possible.
Imagine what it will be like in coaching.
Fear and Confidence
As many professionals, you encounter challenges in business where you feel you have to change yourself. You might try to become what you are not. You walk around with a persona that you created, which is fulfilling anticipated expectations of your surrounding – more logical, more ad-hoc, more outspoken, only speaking up when asked and so on. You have a confused identity. You might feel you have to hide yourself. And it is painful not to be your own authentic self.
Here is the catch:
Self-confidence is the most essential trait to be successful in business – countless research has shown that. You have to deal with people, take decisions that influence your business and a lot of other people, execute plans, develop strategies and so on. All these won’t happen unless and until you are confident of your own capabilities.
However, if you feel you cannot be yourself how can you become more confident in yourself?
Most of the time, what’s keeping us from being ourselves is fear.
Fear is a funny thing. Fear creeps into our lives at the worst of times aka change. I’m not talking about the legitimate fear of one’s safety but the fear that arises when we step out of our comfort zone.
If you can discern the voice of fear, it is a good indication in which direction to go – as long as you head the other way.
I resonate strongly with the logic step sequence from Jenn Aubert to discern and lean into fear when leaving your comfort zone. With this sequence you can figure out in which direction fear is pointing so that you can go the other way.
What is the fear telling you? Often we become fearful and just stop. We don’t ask why we are fearful at this moment and what it may represent. Are you about to do something different but are fearful that others may find it not good enough? What is that telling you? Most professionals want to get out there with everything perfect. But often we need to get something out to test and get feedback on. Are you afraid of the feedback that your product/idea/concept is not viable? Find out what is really stirring under the surface and if there are changes that need to be made.
Utilize the fear for growth. Allow fear to bring up past issues that you need to deal with so you can move on. Is the fear you’re experiencing now a reflection of past mistakes or missed opportunities? Are you bringing up childhood or relationship issues? Nothing brings up personal issues more than change. Face them and grow on them.
Tune into the voice of reason. Figure out the worst case scenario then ask yourself how likely is it to occur. Step outside the emotional side and ask the rational question, “Really, what’s the percentage that this could fail.” We often begin to believe and act like we’re 100% doomed when in reality you may be able to determine that there is a 30% chance of failure or some other negative outcome. If you know that you have a 70% chance of success or a positive outcome that will refocus your attention.
The most powerful and successful people in history have battled fear. No one is immune. They may appear fearless but it’s only because you’re seeing them after years of working with, managing and overcoming their fears. You have stepped into the world beyond your comfort zone and that is when the magic happens so know you’ve arrived. You’re not alone.
Be the best parent your children will ever have
If you are a bit like me than you might experience flash forwards like this:
My daughter comes home from her therapy session in tears. She locks herself up in her room and I knock against her door, saying softly:” what’s up sweetie?” I hear her sobbing through the door and my heart is crushed. Eventually she opens the door and then she starts telling me how what I did in her childhood messed her up real good.
Every time you feel like you are not giving your kid enough attention or you are not strict enough, not spontaneous enough, not happy enough, not smiling enough, not strong enough, the fear of not being a good parent is knocking at the door of your heart.
In the evening when you come home from work and when your family is finally together you try to do everything perfect. Food (healthy if possible and if you have a fussy eater like mine, you might wonder when the malnutrition will show 😉 ), doing homework with the kids, music practice, all kids having a shower or bath, having them in their pajamas by a certain time so that they go to bed on time.
Once they are asleep, you might start berating yourself that you didn’t take time to tickle your little one enough to make him/her laugh, to admire to a really cool Lego statue/ painting/ clay figure that she/he has made, play a puzzle, asked her/him about school or daycare and his/her friends, etc.
There is this constant dialogue running in your head of doubting whether you are a good enough parent and listing all the things that are not going well or could go wrong. The internal argument is going back and forth. Energy consuming, tiring and at times even overwhelming.
In reality you are the best parent that your children will ever have. You give your best and make adjustments if you find out things don’t work. You have all the resourcefulness to be a precious person and parent.
All you got to do is trust your intuition and follow it despite what your internal negative dialogue, a teacher, a friend, a child specialist, etc. will say. You know your child best and are totally apt to make decisions for your child. You can find this beautiful balance between adhering to necessary rules and spontaneous play.
And when indeed the day comes when your child confronts you with your mistakes, you can acknowledge that you made mistakes. That doesn’t mean that you are a mistake. Making mistakes is a basic human condition. We are not perfect beings, evolution has not shaped us like this. We are human beings that came to live in this world with the best of our abilities, embracing perfect imperfection.
You will know that you have done the best you could do and that your children have the best parent they could ever have. It’s all about accepting ourselves for who we are and striving for the best we can be, because we love our children.
Earthquake trauma relief and (self) care training in Nepal
On the surface life has gone back to normal in Kathmandu. People are going on about their lives, going to school, attending social gatherings, cooking their meals, going to work, selling goods, hanging out, etc.
However, people are in heightened state of arousal. If there is a slight earth tremor, they are ready to run or hide. If anyone speaks of another earthquake coming, the hearts of people starts racing and their minds either go in a shut down or in overdrive. Many people have trouble sleeping at night and longest most of them go without thinking of the earthquake is perhaps 6 hours. If you talk about April 25, when the first major earth quake hit, they experience the day as if it just happened yesterday.
What gives hope and faith in speedy recovery from the earthquake is high resilience. What comes to people in Nepal naturally is the ability and desire to reach out to each other, family, friends, community. All of them experienced help and support of and to total strangers and it creates a sense of meaning, pride and connectedness that carries them away from the bottomless pits and abysses of helplessness, powerlessness and loneliness.
On day 1 of the trauma relief and self care training our work is easy in that aspect. All we got to do is tap into that common shared experience, speak about it and celebrate the achievement of them as a community.
However, we also face several challenges, in particular language barriers, one of them being understanding of English language. Most people attending the training speak English, but only to a certain level. Hence routine instructions during the training take longer to communicate, need to be iterated several times and sometimes translated to Nepali.
The second challenge is the language of the soul, if you like. What is meant with language of the soul is the ability to connect and talk about the feelings and emotions and tap into our innate sense of knowing. In general Nepalis are not encouraged to express the emotions, hence laying the link to their emotions and naming them appropriately is a learning process that all participants have to go through the first day of the training.
On the second day the participants start showing up as themselves and are less afraid to be who they truly are.
We have authenticity and vulnerability in the room.
Communication is getting easier. The flow of the first day and the effort of getting participants used to connecting to their feelings and expressing them comes to fruition. We breach the initial language barriers and start to truly reach people. And as on the first day, despite the fact that several things didn’t go according to plan – for example for the compassionate body scan we had a beautiful recording that we couldn’t play because a truck outside the room was so loud (and smelly!) that no-one could hear it – everything is flowing. Nothing feels forced or artificial.
The second training day is the most intense day of the curriculum. This “process” day is also the day on which the chance of re-traumatizing the participants is the highest. Hence for the exercise at the end of the day we had developed a very rigorous protocol using a combination of EMDR (Eye Movement De-sensitization Reprocessing) techniques, which are used to treat symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder), and Co-Active coaching methods to bring the earthquake witnesses and victims closer to the emotions and thoughts that they have difficulties with. And it works beautifully! We lead them slowly and gently to the experiences that they have difficulties with, starting already on the first day by letting them share their own experiences and deepening it by letting them draw different trees – normal, comforting, wounded and healing tree – on the morning of the second day
On the third day, the day of release and future planning, big shifts occur.
Stuck energy is released and starts flowing again. Emotions of guilt, shame, anger, powerlessness and aggression transform into positive and empowering emotions that enabled people to move forward again.
If emotions like shame and guilt take root in you they are like poison. These emotions thrive when not be spoken of – when you keep them for yourself. They will penetrate deeper in your system and you will feel more and more disconnected from the world and the people around you. What reduces these emotions is talking about them, sharing them and not trying to push them away. These negative emotions will lose their grip on you and they will become weaker. What is required is courage and vulnerability. To show vulnerability a safe space is needed, and that is what we were able to create these days; a safe space where a lot of learning and integration took place.
The participants walked away with a renewed sense of purpose, hope and determination not to let the trauma of the earthquake rule their life or the life of their family members, friends and the children they work with.
Their focus is forward, towards a future in which people feel safe and free again.
We knew that the time had come for psychological care in Nepal (3 months after the first major earth quake) but there is a big difference between knowing it intellectually and actually experiencing it! The feeling is indescribable happy and highly addictive. I want to more of this. Much more.
What if peace is a tangible possibility?
Everyone is in shock about the outbreak of violence in Baltimore after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who had died in an encounter with the police. We watch in horror and fascination the video footage of the fire and the demolition in streets that looks like a scene out of Armageddon. “Who has created this hell on earth?” a man asked in a post to the TV footage. .
“Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs,” said the city major of Baltimore.
On Monday morning the 27th of April a curfew applied to juveniles under age 17. Anyone hearing, reading and experiencing this put it together and understood it like this:
every person under the age of 17 is a thug.
What does it do to a juvenile when he/she is put under curfew? What does it do to people when they are called thugs?
Let’s spin this further.
What does a person gain from violence?
First and foremost: if you feel insecure, helpless and powerless, have no money or influence, violence is an instant gratification measure. Violence gives significance. People will look and listen to you and “respect” you if you are the one with power over their physical well-being. If you swing your fists, have a rock, knife or gun in your hands, you are in charge.
Secondly if you are angry and you are acting on it, you are certain. There is no place for insecurity. The person that initially felt helpless and powerless towards an apparent unyielding authority and the overwhelming sensation of injustice is acting now and has power.
How do you relate to someone who is exercising violence?
Try walking in their shoes. We all experience the sensation of being helpless and powerless when we read that news and watch those scenes. We all choose our own coping mechanism. We can be pretty certain that quite a few people feel the urge to retaliate in answer to this “Ohnmacht”, especially if they are close to the “war-zone”. One can sense a sliver of a desire for retribution in what the city major said.
The peace negotiation can start now
First we need to acknowledge what is going on : a state of war among people.
We also need to acknowledge that at the same time a lot of good is happening. People are going about their normal lives, going to work, having breakfast or dinner, children playing and laughing.
We need to acknowledge our own reactions and sensations associated with the violence.
What do we think? What and who do we judge? What and who do we feel bad about? What and who do we feel good about?
This is how we sass out our usual pattern of behavior towards events and people that are violent.
The next step is a break through the habitual thoughts and emotions to allow new thoughts and judgment of the situation. When you are prompted to think and feel differently about the question:
What leads to violence? What is going on in the person that is acting violently?
– new dimensions and possibilities open up (and new pathways in your brain are activated)
A powerful perspective shift can be induced by “indirect negotiation”. Tony Robbins demonstrates indirect negotiation at a leadership conference on September 11, 2001.
Here is the turn-key that shifts a speaking and acknowledging exercise to a peace negotiation: we need to hear the other person – the adversary – speak about their experience. By identifying with their experience and the deep listening empathy and fundamental understanding are generated.
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh used the same process for peace intervention at the Palestinian and Israeli retreat at Plum Village in 2003. At the beginning the two parties didn’t speak to each other directly. After one week both delegations gathered and one delegation started to speak about their thoughts and emotions, without the other party responding. The delegations are asked to speak without accusations and as little judgment as possible. The following day the other delegation spoke about their experiences in the conflict. In due course of the days following both parties discovered common elements, thoughts and emotions.
What happens in this phase is the indirect agreement, based on mutual empathy, which is then followed by a direct agreement. Both conflicting parties are able to speak directly to each other, without falling back in their previous mental and emotional pattern.
In this place reconciliation is possible. When we see our adversary as human being and fully respect them for who they are, we are able to communicate truthfully. Our needs are mutually understood and there is a natural inclination to find a way how all needs can met. In this place conflict is absent. And the avenue to peace opens up…
…the city major and the leaders of the rioting crowd would engage in a peace negotiation?
…the city major won’t see the rioting people (and every juvenile under 17) as thugs, but the human being that is valuable and capable of amazing deeds?
….the people that were at the heart of the riot would experience the city major and police force not as instruments of oppression and discrimination, but people that want the best for their citizens?
“Dream managers are not born, they are promoted”, said the CEO who successfully turned around a bear diving business into a stable growing company that is a favorite target for late stage pension fund investments. Her reign lasted many years.
Fast wind backwards – going back a few years
The situation was very similar to the pilot post of the series. However, in this story the consultant does not respond to the saboteurs. The CEO is a different person, but very similar background and saboteurs, coming from North Ireland. The company’s situation and culture is similar to the one described in the pilot post.
When a child the CEO had a galvanizing dream about living and working with animals. It gave her the determination to survive the deprived childhood years and be excellent at school. She wanted to go study veterinarian medicine, but the quota for sponsored scholarship was full and the parents didn’t have the means to provide for the university fees and costs of living. She won a scholarship in economics and business and did really well, whilst doing volunteer work at animal shelters. She saw a lot of suffering that increased the conviction that humans by nature are cruel and deserve no better treatment.
She went onto a stellar career path, charming peers and kicking down, smiling up. Eventually she had to give up the volunteer work and the only aspect of her dream that survived was having dogs at home who she adored and cared for with dedication.
The consultant who was hired to help to save the nose-diving business walked in and was not influenced by her saboteurs. He had a heightened awareness of what drives people and where energies are locked up, waiting to be released. The investigation campaign was launched to assess the status quo of the company culture.
The organization was a silo-ed place, where little information was flowing between the different departments and business units. A generation of ex-military people sat in various positions who were hired in an era of recruitment philosophy in which loyalty and obedience was highly valued. The general employee had a risk averse behavior whilst the company was operating in a risk-taker favored market. The company had recognized its shortcomings a few years back. For remedy the recruitment philosophy changed and a lot of external experts and high-profile managers were hired. They introduced processes that were not organic to the organization and paralyzed the company further. The CEO aggravated matters as she had a hard time letting go of control and not trusting anyone in her surrounding.
When the results of the cultural investigation campaign were finally in, the consultant met the CEO in her office to go through these analyses. The CEO immediately launched into a rant about how people would only do what’s good for them regardless of the business goals and needs and that the employees didn’t understand business goals and objectives. Whilst the consultant tried to get her focused on the interpretation of the results, he shoved accidentally a pile of paper on the CEO’s desk that toppled picture frame with dogs. Her reaction was startling. She jumped up scowling angrily and grabbed the picture frame. Then she looked at it and her face transformed. It was radiant and blissful.
The consultant had the awareness and guts to act on that. He asked a powerful question: “What about this is important to you?” Suddenly everything tumbled out of her, the love for the dogs, the dream, the reduction and almost total disappearance of it in her life. The consultant asked another powerful question: “What do you truly want?” For the dream to become alive again.
That was the beginning of a coaching journey. The CEO started working with the consultant as coach. A year passed of consistently unlocking the pent up energy that sat in that unrealized dream (plus some psychotherapy on the side to deal with unresolved childhood trauma). The CEO’s internal wholesome voice of resourcefulness and creativity got stronger and she became anchored in it. The influence of the Saboteur voices dimmed and the Saboteur’s energy drain reduced.
Within a year the company started seeing some dramatic leadership changes. First the CEO started dropping the mask that she had been wearing towards the board and asked for time and help to turn around the company’s balance sheet. Over time she was able to explain how she wanted to transform the company culture, going from closed to open, from means to goal oriented, etc. (more about these dimensions see Hofstede Centre ) and implemented the most outstanding mechanism: dream managers.
Her own experience and the book “Dream managers” by Matthew Kelley inspired this mechanism. In this existing and potential managers are invited to describe their dreams and what they want to achieve with them. If their dream is elected for a certain candidate position, some rigorous interviewing process plus testing takes place. Coaching is provided as possible assistance tool if certain areas are lacking and the candidate is a good match. The entire process is completely open and transparent. Everyone knows what the rules are. Most critical, this mechanism utilizes the energy that sits in a dream realized.
This implementation attracted and kept people that brought the necessary energy level (and associated productivity) to staunch the profit bleeding and weeded out those that couldn’t buy in. The business turned around and became a top performer in its peer group.
A success story of wholesomeness, resourcefulness and creativity.
One reason why high profile consultancies fail
“I couldn’t stand it. She was so mean! To everyone!“, exclaimed a colleague last week when he told me – with gritted teeth – that he had declined a lucrative consulting job. He could not work with the CEO.
As always, it would be very tempting to find out what was going in the
relationship between the two. Find out the right and wrong of both sides and then make a judgment. However, that is not what this is about. So rule number one: no judging. Can you do it? Right, it is tough. Let’s see how far we get with this.
The company board had called in my colleague. The board’s concerns were the usual metrics: cost reduction, revenue growth and staunching the profit loss. However, they also knew something was not quite right. Too many people were leaving, especially those who were hired recently and had been an excellent match according to company’s assessment. So they tried to look into something new: the culture of the organization.
That kind of opened a can of worms. The plethora of personality profiles, evaluation assessments, match makes with position, etc. pointed towards the epicenter of distortion: the CEO. She had a fascinating set of values, skills, background and saboteurs. An unfamiliar term here may be saboteurs. In a nutshell: saboteurs are the voices in your head that tell you that you are incapable, not experienced enough, risking too much or simply not worthy. Every one of us has those party poopers in the head. They speak in different voices and in different situations. The longer you ignore them the more persistent they get. And if you are not aware of them, they will whisper lies in your sleep and waking life and prevent you from living fully. For more detailed explanation of saboteurs I refer to Shirzad Chamine, the genius inventor of the term in this context.
The CEO’s saboteurs were informed by the upbringing in a children-rich family (7 odd siblings) where dogfights between the children for food or attention from the parents were the order of the day. She learned to use her elbows to get to the food or cuddle or any other essential nutriment for survival and growth first and smile or play the victim when the parents were around. The CEO learned to toughen up, towards herself and others, with the conviction that there is no free lunch unless you grabbed it for yourself. A determined career climber was born, with little empathy for herself and others and the precise and intuitive knowledge what authority was looking for in a student, manager or CEO.
The CEO’s leadership style was charming peers that could be allies, kicking downwards if needed and always pleasing upwards. In times of stress we all are challenged in our behaviors. In those times the saboteurs, whose job was to keep us safe during childhood, come out kicking and screaming. Particularly when you start recognizing that your methods and behaviors are leading you repeatedly to a dead-end. Saboteurs will fight to maintain their stronghold when you try out new ways that are actually wholesome, resourceful and creative.
The troubles with the company performance and rapid departure of people who were hired into key positions put a lot of pressure on the CEO. The CEO’s saboteurs came out swinging their arsenal of controlling weapons such as intimidating people into obedience, using their weak spots to hurt them and make them small, showing a smiling and confidence radiating face to the board, whilst working crazy hours to get the balance sheet right again. When the company wide personality and behavior testing commenced and revealed counter-productive mechanisms the saboteurs went screaming mad towards the consultant who was stirring the pot.
The consultant himself was under heavy saboteur attack that responded strongly to the CEO’s saboteurs. The consultant had grown up in circumstances in which he was a victim of intimidation and had received countless emotional and physical elbow blows against his ribs.
A perfect match. A set up for anti-collaboration, which lead to all efforts being dropped. The company board still doesn’t have solution for the diminishing returns and high people turn-over and the CEO keeps on working herself and everyone else really hard.
How could this situation be different? Perhaps it could be solved? This is where the voice of wholesomeness, resourcefulness and creativity comes into play.